The first time the case was called, the community representative had not made it to the hearing room yet. City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke asked that other cases be called first to give the community member a chance to arrive.
When the case was re-called, Liquor Board Inspector Mark Fosler testified that he and Inspector Michael Hyde went to the establishment on Friday, September 19, 2014, in response to concerns raised by Coldstream Homestead Montebello Community Corporation (CHMCC) executive director Mark Washington and Councilwoman Clarke. The inspectors observed that the packaged goods portion of the BD-7 tavern was operating. They entered the establishment noticed that the lights were out in tavern portion of the building. The required three-compartment sink was not in use. Seven minutes later, Mr. Calvin Mims, the manager, arrived. The inspectors explained to Mr. Mims that the law requires that they keep the tavern section of the establishment open whenever the packaged goods section is open. Mr. Mims replied that they would open the tavern section if the customers wanted to use it; since he lives right across the street, he can come and open it whenever someone wants to be there. Inspector Fosler concluded his report by saying that there is a rat infestation in that block, but that he can’t blame it specifically on the establishment.
Councilwoman Clarke then testified that she is one of the complainants that asked for an inspection. She doesn’t know the current owner, but she does drive by very frequently and sees people hanging around it. She told the Board that she was part of the effort to require that taverns operate as taverns, so that people don’t stand out on the street, drinking. She said that if the store doesn’t operate as a tavern, they should get a Class A package goods license. South of the establishment, in the 1700 block of Abbotston, is a fairly new housing development, with responsible property owners. North of the establishment, in the 1500 block of Abbotston, there are some vacant houses, but there are also responsible renters and homeowners there. The 1600 block, in which this “tavern” is located, is the troublesome block. Chairman Ward asked whether Councilwoman Clarke had ever talked to Mr. Mims; she responded that she had not.
Mr. Lamont Cosby, also a manager of the business, testified next. He asked, “why hasn’t anybody ever came to the establishment to express any concerns with the establishment?” Chairman Ward told Cosby that Councilwoman Clarke “doesn’t have to apologize for not coming to your bar to complain. She’s a city councilmember of the whole district.” Mr. Cosby continued with his testimony, saying that there is one house in the block with twenty “terrible” peopel living there. Councilwoman Clarke replied that she knows which house he means, and she “will address [herself] to that house.” Mr. Cosby also mentioned that their sink isn’t working because they stopped using glasses and now serve only in plastic cups. He said that “the back of that tavern probably looks better than ninety percent of the taverns in the city.”
Mr. Mark Washington testified next, as executive director of CHMCC. He said that the complaint came from the family of a murder victim, who was exiting the bar and stabbed on his way home. He added that the home with twenty people to which Mr. Cosby referred is well known to him and Councilwoman Clarke. Washington told the Board that, in the 1500 block of Abbotston Street, of the 32 houses that could be occupied, only six are. The area is so empty that CHMCC has started to work with the City to demolish the block. Mr. Washington said, “in order to have a neighborhood tavern, there must be a stable neighborhood.” He added that “the bar owner has to understand that, in the broad context, we don’t see a future for that bar in the area.” They are working with the City’s Department of Housing and Community Development to relocate the remaining residents so that the block can be demolished. Washington then mentioned a lawsuit against one particular vacant property owner, Scott Wizig, “that [Commissioner Moore] is aware of.” Washington added that the bar is relatively clean but that there are murders, stabbings, and fights nearby, which are a direct effect from the patrons of the bar. He said that the bar attracts “an element from outside of the community.”
Chairman Ward said to Mr. Washington, “I can appreciate the overview that you’re giving us, but there’s only one issue: has he conducted his tavern in accordance with the law? That’s the only thing before us today. There’s no other issue. So what punishment are you recommending?” Washington did not respond with a suggested punishment, but he noted that the reason that there haven’t been complaints is that there is an 80% vacancy rate, so there is no one to call and complain. Ward noted that community organizations very rarely exist in neighborhoods with such high vacancy rates.
Mr. Cosby then said that the liquor store employees try to do their best to uplift the neighborhood. He admitted, “it’s a bad area” but he said that the store shouldn’t be punished because of the vacancy. Chairman Ward replied, “we’re not punishing you for the neighborhood.” Ward explained that they’re being held responsible for the charge that they did not obey the law and keep the tavern portion of the business open. Mr. Cosby said that someone is always there to open the tavern portion, and “you can get in the back.” Chairman Ward told Mr. Cosby that he can’t just open the bar sometimes. If a person walks in, “he ought to be able to go right into the bar… the door has to be open and available for customers and you have to have somebody back there.”
Councilwoman Clarke then told Mr. Cosby that the reason that his establishment is able to be open seven days a week is because he has a tavern license. She said, “a lot of people fought really hard to make that distinctio, so that if something’s going to be open in the neighborhood on a Sunday, it’s not just a package goods store. That’s why it’s open 7 days a week. If you can’t handle it, and you have to have people standing outside holding their drinks, trade your license in for a 6-day. For 7 days, you have to have that tavern. It’s got to be a place where neighborhood people can come.”
The commissioner asked why the licensee was not present (Mr. Mims and Mr. Cosby are managers, not owners or licensees). They explained that the licensee is in Florida, visiting her daughter. The commissioners did not like this explanation. Councilwoman Clarke said that the managers present were defending the licensee’s license, and she should have asked for a postponement if she knew she was going to be out of town.
Mr. Cosby then asked the Board whether he would be allowed to put an age limit on who he lets inside, for example, “30 and over”? The commissioners replied that he could not do that, and Commissioner Moore said, “you really need to learn the laws.”